Harlem is more and more having nice restaurants opening. Maison Harlem is one of them. Located in the very quiet West Harlem, this French restaurant is a nice place for brunch once you are done with the traditional Gospel church and if you are not ready to do the line in one of those Soul Food restaurants serving fried chicken. Avoid the Abyssinian Baptist Church since it seems all the NYC tourists have been told to get there. Canaan Baptist Church has also tourists I won’t lie, but at least if you are a little early you will probably get a seat and will forget those people holding their city guides as soon as you listen to the different choirs.
It seems everybody is French at Maison Harlem, so I felt home very quickly. You first walk through the bar when your table is ready. The atmosphere is very friendly, and feels different and more relax than any downtown restaurants.
As part of the food, I can only say it was excellent. If you order the coq-au-vin, be patient and order an appetizer to kill the time they cook it to order. The portion was generous, and you feel definitely you are in France with this traditional dish.
You may have still some room for a desert, head to Levain Bakery, it has the best chocolate chip cookie ever. These are so dense and heavy you may probably need a friend to split it. The Harlem location is bigger than the one in the Upper West Side and offer other pastries I have not tried. I can just tell you to order the chocolate chip walnut cookie. And to go for a run later.
If you are in West Harlem and want to visit around, check Columbia University and its campus. A couple of block down is the Cathedral St John the Divine, the 4th largest Christian church in the word. Started late 19th century, it was interrupted by the two World War and remains unfinished.
If by any chance you like history, art or you are just curious about seeing parts from five French cloistered abbeys reassembled brick-by-brick before being shipped to New York, head to The Cloisters. Besides the view on the Hudson is blind blowing, like all the 12th-15th century pieces of art this branch of the MET museum features.